Singer Cara Dillon adds her voice to better understanding of the growing issue of diabetes

Singer Cara Dillon was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 2007. Here she answers questions on how this has impacted her daily life.

How did you react to your initial diabetes diagnosis, and were you surprised that you had Type 1 rather than Type 2?

My twin babies were barely a year old when I became quite unwell. Initially my GP thought I had Type 2 and started me on a course of pills and gave me a blood glucose testing kit without the word diabetes even being mentioned in the surgery, and I thought I had cancer.

For an entire week the ketone alarm on the meter was going off and I had no clue what was going on.

Shortly after I was rushed to A&E, they got me started on insulin and got me levelled out and confirmed I had Type 1. Like a lot of people I was ignorant about diabetes in general and couldn’t differentiate between Type 1 and 2 if you paid me.

When I got straight, changed GP and knew what I was dealing with, and how it was going to affect my life, I was completely overwhelmed and went into shock for days.

I just felt like I was never going to be able to have a proper life again and care for my twin babies. Then one day I woke up and thought: ‘I’m not going to let this stupid illness stop me from caring for these two little boys!’ and I started to read and learn about how to cope and manage diabetes.

Do you think differently now about diabetes than you did when you were first diagnosed?

Education is everything! After my diagnosis, I learned what had happened to my body and what I needed to do to survive and live a healthy life. I had a thirst for information on how to manage it as I was a new mother of twins and wanted to be strong, fit and well for them. I’m not terrified of diabetes anymore like I was for a few years. There is so much help and information and support available if you want it and i’ve met so many inspirational people with Type 1 who are living perfectly normal lives and it doesn’t stop them doing anything.

Do you find people are generally aware of the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes?

No. Most frustratingly is the lack of awareness from some people who already have Type 2.

I find it exhausting having to explain the difference between Type 1 and 2 diabetes. Countless people have asked me how long it has taken to lose all the weight. I get asked if I ate too much sugar as a child, or if I found it hard giving up sweets etc.

Generally I feel we need to educate the public about the differences and I think it might be helpful to rename one of them to help make it clear that one is a condition that you can almost reverse entirely with diet and exercise and the other is a chronic illness that can’t be cured and requires constant medication just to stay alive.

In what way does your condition impact upon your live performances on stage, or recording in studio or TV?

My big problem is adrenaline. I used to appreciate the buzz you get just before going on stage, in fact i still do, but for me it’s now an extra ball to juggle as it sends my blood sugars soaring high during a concert and with that I feel like i’m not performing as well as i’d like to. I feel sleepy and lethargic and it can be a struggle at times to sing the way I want to. There really is little I can do about this other than carefully thinking about the foods I eat before performances, keeping carbs to a minimum to avoid any extra spikes in blood glucose levels. I also usually have a rebound hypo in the night following a concert.

Does being a musician make it easier or harder to cope with diabetes?

This is a tricky one, managing highs and lows on tour is very, very challenging especially when travelling abroad and I’m out of my usual routine. When I’m staring at a picture of some food on a menu in a restaurant in Chengdu, China, I’ll be crossing my fingers that whatever comes out of the kitchen is not only edible but something I can account for when taking insulin. It can be very hit and miss. However, there is not a day that goes by that I’m not grateful for my music and the places I go and the people I meet and work with. It’s what I’m passionate about.

Every Type 1 diabetic faces daily challenges so I’m grateful I face mine doing something that I truly love.

Do you see any value in connecting with other people who are managing diabetes?

Absolutely. Sometimes I’m the one giving advice and reassurance and sometimes when I’m down I’m so grateful to hear others tell me about their bad days and I realise I’m not alone in all this. It can get a bit overwhelming at times, constant monitoring, calculating carbs, and injecting multiple times a day and so hearing other peoples experiences can be inspiring. I seem to always meet people on holiday who are Type 1 diabetics. I’m programmed now to spot insulin pens, sensors and pumps and it’s a great thing to swap stories and learn from others.

Cara Dillon will be touring her latest album — Wanderer — throughout 2019. A more introspective album, Wanderer gained widespread critical acclaim upon its release in late 2017 and led to Cara being nominated for “Folk Singer Of The Year” at the BBC Radio Folk Awards in 2018. For more information on Cara and ticket links, visit ww.caradillon.co.uk

Awareness is key to limiting spread of diabetes

The latest estimates show there are 207,490 people with diabetes in Ireland in the 20–79 age group (prevalence of 6.5% in the population) which is in line with previous estimates that by 2020 there would be 233,000 people with the condition, and by 2030 there would be 278,850 people with the condition. Here Kieran O’Leary the Chief Executive of Diabetes Ireland gives the low down on the disease.

DIABETES is fast becoming a serious threat to human health. This is true of the human population globally, and it is particularly true of people living in Ireland.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is an illness that can occur when a person’s blood glucose is too high. Blood glucose is your main source of energy and comes from the food you eat. Insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas, helps glucose from food get into your cells to be used for energy.

What is diabetes mellitus?

The term ‘diabetes’ means excessive urination and the word ‘mellitus’ means honey.

Diabetes mellitus is a lifelong condition caused by a lack, or insufficiency of insulin. Insulin is a hormone — a substance of vital importance that is made by your pancreas.

Insulin acts like a key to open the doors into your cells, letting glucose (sugar) in. In diabetes, the pancreas makes too little insulin to enable all the glucose in your blood to get into your muscle and other cells to produce energy.

If glucose can’t get into the cells to be used, it builds up in the bloodstream.

Therefore, diabetes is characterised by high blood glucose (sugar) levels.

Before you got diabetes

Before you got diabetes, your body automatically kept your blood glucose exactly at the right level. Here is how that worked. After a meal containing carbohydrates, sugar is absorbed into the blood stream very quickly.

The amount of glucose in your blood must not get too high or too low.

Two hormones — insulin and glucagon — produced in the pancreas — ensure that the blood glucose was always well controlled no matter how much you had to eat and how much you exercised.

Diabetes in Ireland

An alarming one-in-three Irish families is currently affected by diabetes. There are two types of diabetes, Type 1 diabetes and Type 2 diabetes. In the absence of a register of people who have diabetes no-one can be entirely sure how many people in Ireland live with diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes

The prevalence of Type 1 diabetes, an auto-immune condition, is on the rise and is typically diagnosed in childhood.

People with Type 1 diabetes account for approximately 14,000 to 16,000 of the total diabetes population in Ireland i.e. 10-15% of the population of people living with diabetes.

It is estimated there are 2,750 people under 16 years of age living with Type 1 diabetes (based on the Irish Paediatric Diabetes Audit 2012) results and other young adults under 20 years attending transition clinics).

Type 2 diabetes

According to the Healthy Ireland survey, 854,165 adults over 40 in the Republic of Ireland are at increased risk of developing (or have) Type 2 diabetes. More alarmingly, there are a further 304,382 in the 30 to 39 year age group that are overweight and not taking the weekly 150 minutes recommended physical activity, leaving them at an increased risk of chronic ill-health. This means that there are 1,158,547 adults in Ireland that need to consider making changes to their daily behaviours in terms of eating healthily and being more active.

It is estimated there are over 15,600 people aged 80+ living with Type 2 diabetes based on the TILDA study which found a prevalence of 11.9% in the 75+ age group. The International Diabetes Federation’s (2012) estimates by 2030 there will be 278,850 people with the condition (7.5% of population).

Are you at risk?

Check your personal level of risk on the Diabetes Ireland website here

Top tips for organising a diabetes fundraiser

Diabetes Ireland incurs significant costs maintaining its care and advice services and research programmes. Sometimes, the hardest part of organising a fundraiser is coming up with a fundraising idea. For ideas, visit www.diabetes.ie

Please note a special supplement on 'Understanding Diabetes' has been published free with today's Irish Examiner (Tuesday, May 21, 2019) but if you have missed why not subscribe to our edition here where you can browse through our archive.

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